Students Staff

27 January 2010

Policy interventions needed ‘from cradle to grave’

The independent National Equality Panel (NEP), in its report published today (27 January), argues that policy interventions are needed at each life cycle stage to counter the way economic inequalities are reinforced over people’s lives and often on to the next generation.

The Panel, which is made up of ten academics including Professor Stephen Jenkins from the University's Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), finds that:

  • Deep-seated and systematic differences’ remain between social groups across all of the dimensions the Panel examines, although some of the widest gaps have narrowed in the last decade, such as between the earnings of women and men, or in the educational qualifications of different ethnic groups.
  • People’s origins shape their life chances from cradle to grave. Differences in wealth are associated, for instance, with opportunities such as the ability to buy houses in the catchment areas of the best schools, to afford private education, or to help children onto the housing ladder. At the other end of life, wealth levels are associated with stark differences in life expectancy after 50.
  • A tenth of households aged 55-64 have wealth of under £28,000, but a tenth have over £1.3 million (including houses and pension rights). At that age, just before retirement, half of higher professional and managerial household have wealth of over £900,000, but half of households with routine jobs have less than £150,000.
  • Significant differences remain in employment and pay between men and women and between minority ethnic groups and the White British population, despite narrowed or reversed qualification gaps. For instance, women aged up to 44 have better qualifications than men on average, but the middle woman’s hourly pay is 21 per cent below that of the middle man. Only women in the public sector with high qualifications have ‘career progression’ in wages after age 30.
  • Those from nearly every minority ethnic group are less likely to be in paid work than White British men and women. Recent research shows clear evidence of discrimination in who is offered job interviews depending on the apparent ethnicity of applicants’ names shown in CVs.
  • But differences in outcomes between the more and less advantaged within each social group, however the population is classified into groups, are much greater than differences between social groups. Overall inequalities would remain wide even if all differences between groups were removed.
  • Inequality in earnings and in income is high in Britain, both compared with other industrialised countries, and compared with thirty years ago. Over the most recent decade, earnings inequality has narrowed a little and income inequality has stabilised on some measures, but has increased on measures affected by the share going to the very top. The large inequality growth of the 1980s has not been reversed.

The Panel identifies sixteen areas – from early years to pensions – where policy interventions are needed to tackle inequalities.

The Panel’s Chair, Professor John Hills from the London School of Economics, said: 'Most people and nearly all political parties subscribe to the ideal of ‘equality of opportunity’. But advantage and disadvantage reinforce themselves over the life cycle. It is hard to argue that the large and systematic differences in outcomes which we document result from personal choices made against a background of equality of opportunity, however that is defined.'

Other ISER academics who have contributed important research to the Panel's report are Dr Lucinda Platt, Dr Simonetta Longhi and Dr Cheti Nicoletti.

The full report and a summary are available on the NEP's website

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